Most Common Reasons Babies Wake Up at Night

baby waking up

Sleep Props

The use of props to help a baby fall asleep, is the number one reason a sleeping baby wakes up at night. Here are some common props or sleep associations:

  • Bottle or breastfeeding/nursing to sleep
  • Rocking to sleep
  • Swinging to sleep
  • Movement in a carseat or stroller
  • Even the *pacifier if your baby is dependent on it
  • Holding to sleep/sleeping on parent

If your baby relies on any of the above to fall asleep, and needs them when she wakes up at night, then it is considered a prop or sleep association. Your baby will most likely continue waking throughout the night and not be able to soothe back to sleep, without that particular prop. Also, if your baby wakes up crying or if your baby wakes up screaming, this is a good sign that your baby has become dependent on sleep props. To encourage good sleep habits, your baby should be laid down to sleep awake, without any props. This goes for bedtime and during the night. Laying your baby down without any props will help your baby learn to soothe herself, so that she is not so reliant on you to sleep well. This is obviously a lot easier said, than done. I specialize in this. Here’s how I can help –>.


My first baby, Brianna, used the sheets to self soothe. She would rub her face up against the sheets, side to side until she fell asleep. When she got older she would sway her hand across the sheets back and forth. The texture of the sheet helped her self soothe until she fell asleep. That would never cross my mind as soothing, but that’s exactly what she did. We even bought her these Velour sheets, which she absolutely loved. Of course, the sheets weren’t the reason she started sleeping through the night. I had to also incorporate some Gentle Sleep Training to eliminate all of the bad sleep habits I instilled, but I just wanted to give you an example of how simple self-soothing can be. There are many ways that a baby can find to self-settle, you just have to give her the opportunity to do so. If she is already reliant on sleep props, this may take some sleep training to resolve. And don’t worry, that doesn’t mean you have to leave your baby to cry it out. There are many gentler ways. 

 

 

By teaching your baby to fall asleep on her own, and getting rid of sleep props, you will solve most, if not all of your baby’s sleep troubles. I am not suggesting, by any means, to use any harsh methods of sleep training to achieve this. As a matter of fact, you want to do everything you can, to comfort your baby before bed. Kisses, hugs, and cuddling is the best part of our bedtime routine! Of course, you want to make your baby feels safe, secure, and loved before bedtime. Just don’t let the sleep props be the reason your baby falls asleep.

* A side note on the use of the pacifier. I encourage the use of a pacifier because it has been shown to reduce the risk of SIDS. However, if your baby keeps waking up and crying in the middle of the night because the pacifier fell out, and you need to keep putting it back in, then you might want to evaluate if you really want to use it. This is a personal choice, one you will have to make weighing your pros and cons. I thought Brianna was reliant on the pacifier, then I put her to the test. I took the binky away, and let her fall asleep without it for a few nights, and she didn’t cry for it. So I knew she wasn’t relying on it. She fell asleep with it, but didn’t care when it fell out. So I decided to keep it. I think I would have kept it either way, at least for the first few months. Tell a nurse something reduces SIDS, and she’s not going to think twice.

 

“Before I contacted Violet Anthony had never slept through the night, he was usually up twice a night. He was also dependent on nursing to fall asleep. I couldn’t believe it, the first night he slept 11 hours straight!! It’s been 2 1/2 weeks so far and every single night he’s slept for 10-11 hours! He also no longer falls asleep nursing! Now he nurses and pulls off when he wants to go to bed. He loves his crib which is a total change from before when he would cry every time I laid him down. Thank you so much!! Honestly, I thought there was no way my stubborn little guy would go into his crib awake and fall asleep. It’s amazing!! Thanks!! I can sleep again!!”~ Alison, California 
 

 

Circadian  Rhythm

It’s also known as our biological clock. It’s a 24-hour pattern of biological activities that occur in our body. The sleep-wake cycle is part of that circadian rhythm. As part of the sleep-wake cycle, our body releases certain hormones during night time to help us fall asleep. It also releases daytime hormones to help us wake up. Babies are born with an underdeveloped circadian rhythm. That’s why when you bring your baby home from the hospital, he or she sleeps during the day and is awake at night. Also, don’t forget throughout your pregnancy, your baby was rocked to sleep during the day by your movements. That’s why you felt her movements at night when she was awake. So what can you do to help your little night owl? Just keep your baby on a regular feeding cycle. Keep the blinds open, turn on the t.v or radio, and just go about your day as you normally would to help create an association with daytime. Then at night, obviously you do the exact opposite. Quiet all noise, turn down the lights, and establish your bedtime routine. Be patient, it can take some babies up to 8 weeks to know the difference between day and night. To complicate things even more, melatonin (the sleep hormone) is not produced until a baby is about 2-3 months old. So don’t get discouraged, it takes a while for a baby to settle into this world.

 

Startle Reflex

Also known as the Moro reflex, is a normal infantile reflex. When some stimulus causes your baby to startle, the legs flex and the arms stretch out. This stimulus can be a loud noise, an unexpected touch, or a bad dream. This reflex lasts only a few seconds but can wake a sleeping baby. Some babies can drift right back to sleep, while others will completely wake up. This reflex usually diminishes by 4 months of age. Until then, the Swaddle Sleep Sack is great. Those nifty velcro patches were intended to keep your baby’s arms inside and prevent awakening from the startle reflex. I watched Brianna, completely wake up from the startle reflex over and over. Her arms would fan out and within seconds, she was completely awake! That’s when I decided to put her in the Swaddle Sack. It helped so much and she slept so much better.


Temperature

At one point Brianna started waking more frequently for a few days in a row, right at the start of winter. I noticed her little hands and feet were cold. Now it’s pretty warm in our house. As a matter of fact, I slept in shorts and a tank top. Apparently it wasn’t warm enough for Brianna. I had to adjust the temperature for her. When I did, she was back to her normal sleep schedule. The same thing happened in the summer when it got really warm out. At this point, she was sleeping through the night, and she started waking up a for a few nights. That’s when I realized it was too warm for her. It was only April, I never turn on the air condition this early! I had to put a low fan setting on the A.C. and that kept her comfortable. Babies are picky about the right temperature. We naturally regulated their temperatures for them, while they were in utero. Out here, it’s a bit more difficult to get that temperature just right. 


Hunger

Ok, this may sound self-explanatory, but it’s not. You may think your baby is hungry, but she may not be. Here are some clues that your baby is waking up at night because she is truly hungry:

1. She wakes up whining at first, then transitions into a louder and louder cry. If your baby wakes up hysterical, she’s probably waking up because she’s scared or confused, not because she’s immediately hungry. Babies will wake up screaming if they fell asleep in your arms, and didn’t go to sleep on their own. They wake up alarmed, wondering where they are, and where you disappeared. Sort of like you would if you fell asleep in your warm bed, but woke up in your backyard. That’s how alarming it is for a baby, and that’s why your baby wakes up screaming.

2. Your baby is waking up consistent with her daytime feeding schedule. Meaning if she’s eating every 3 hours during the day, she will probably do the same at night. Especially if she is young. A young baby may only be able to make it 3-4hrs at night. If your baby is older, her consistent wakings may be purely out of habit, refer to the habit section below.

 

3. She only wakes for one feeding. If your baby is only waking for one feeding and goes right back to sleep, she is most likely hungry and still needs that feeding. If your baby is waking up multiple times a night, chances are she is just comfort feeding. (Unless she is really young of course)

 

4. When your baby is eating, you hear loud, audible swallows. What I mean is, she is not just playing around, suckling a little here, a little there. She is truly drinking and actively eating. Some babies wake up from a sleep cycle, and just want to be soothed back to sleep, and the bottle or breast is obviously going to do the trick. Brianna was infamous for this. She would wake up, suckle a little, and fall right asleep on me. I would slip her into bed and a half-hour to 1 hour later, she did it again. She wasn’t hungry, she was using me as a soother! And this went on for months. It wasn’t until she was 8 months old when I learned about sleep props, and that she was actually only comfort nursing.

 

5. Your baby stays awake during the entire feeding, and usually drinks a large bottle or feeds from both breasts. A baby wouldn’t be able to eat that much if she was not hungry. It is possible that your baby is eating a large amount out of habit, or simply because it’s offered and she knows it’s an easy way to fall back asleep. If your baby is comfort feeding while her stomach is full, she will eat a little bit and fall asleep on the bottle or breast. So it can be very tricky. You have to really be in-tune with your baby’s hunger cues. I can also help with this, more on that below.

 

6. Here’s the biggie, your baby falls asleep after you place her back in the crib awake! Now only a very content baby could do that. If you fulfilled her need for calories because she was hungry, and she falls asleep knowing that she is back in her crib, then she was most likely hungry. Otherwise, she would put up a fight and stay awake.

 

 

 

Out of Habit

Many babies wake several times a night, and even just once or twice a night, simply out of habit. If they get a feeding or sleep prop at the exact same time each night, their body’s internal clock gets set to wake at that time each night. This is often the most complicated reason for a waking, because parent’s get confused about what’s going on. They start to wonder is my baby really hungry? Is my baby relying on me for comfort? Or is my baby just simply waking out of habit? And how do I stop the wakings? This can be difficult to resolve on your own. I help parents with this dilemma on a daily basis and would be glad to help. If you are having a hard time getting your baby to sleep, because your confused about what’s going on and how to fix it, please consider one of my Baby Sleep Consultation Packages. I will take an in-depth look into your baby’s sleep situation, create a customized sleep plan, and help you through the entire process of helping your baby sleep well.


Growth Spurt

We all heard about this right? Your baby grows at a rapid rate and needs to eat more. Common growth spurts are 7-10 days, 3 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months, 6 months, and 9 months. Give or take a little, they are not exact. Brianna must of hit every single one of these. She was on a great sleep schedule, then all of the sudden started waking frequently. I knew it was only a growth spurt because it only lasted 3-4 days. After a while, I loved growth spurts. Because at the end of each growth spurt, she would get right back on her sleep schedule, and even slept a little bit longer. My recommendation, just feed on demand during a growth spurt. If you are breastfeeding, don’t worry about your supply being low. Your supply will actually increase to meet the demand of your baby. I always thought it was cool how that works. Don’t forget to drink extra fluids. You are going to be thirsty from all the feedings. And if you are bottle feeding, your partner can help with the extra feedings. Growth spurts can be exhausting but thankfully they don’t last long.

 

New Developmental Skill

Your baby learned how to kick, roll, sit or stand and now they want to do it all night. Sound familiar? You can’t stop a baby from exploring her new skills. For younger babies, the Swaddle Sack is great. You can use it up until your baby starts to roll. It keeps their little arms and legs inside. At first, I wasn’t very fond of using the Swaddle Sack. I felt like I was restraining my baby. After a few uses, I realized it was really helping her. By using a good swaddle, you are keeping your baby snug, and preventing her from even getting the idea of kicking or swinging her arms. Initially, I was swaddling Brianna in a regular receiving blanket. It didn’t take long for her to slip out of there. As soon as an arm or leg broke loose, she fully woke up to further experiment. With the Swaddle Sleep Sack, that never even crossed her mind because her arms and legs never came out of it. She slept so soundly in it. As you can tell, I really love swaddle sacks! And don’t forget lots of playtime on the mat during the day. This helps your baby practice her new skills, so she’s less likely to practice at bedtime and during the night.

 

Teething

For some babies, teething can feel like an itch, and for others, it can be very painful. But either way, it’s annoying and can keep a baby up all night. 6 months is the average time a baby cuts her first tooth, but it can happen way earlier, or later. Bottom line, you will have to find some way to ease the pain. Talk to your doctor about some options. There’s no reason to hold off on helping your baby sleep well because of teething.

 

Light

Is there any light coming in the room? Perhaps it’s a full moon, or your neighbor just bought a new garage light. Lights can really bother a sleeping baby because they disrupt the sleep-wake cycle. Illumination suppresses Melatonin, the hormone that helps your baby sleep. If you suspect light to be waking your baby, I recommend room darkening or blackout shades like these Blackout EZ blinds. Before we put Brianna in her own room, she slept 2 hours later in our bedroom which had the room darkening shades. I learned that she’s one of those babies that wake as soon as there’s any tiny bit of light coming through. Blackout shades are great, they keep the bright sunlight out, and most of them block out 95-99% of light.

 

Some babies are just more sensitive than others. Studies show that even a small amount of light can prevent us from going to sleep and staying asleep. You may have to get rid of the cute nightlight you registered for or cover up the light on the smoke detector. I actually had to cover the green light coming from the baby monitor camera. I just stuck a piece of black tape on the light. I caught Brianna staring at it the first few nights we installed it, it was preventing her from falling asleep. It was such a tiny pin size light, but it still bothered her. Some babies won’t even give any clues that a light is bothering them. Instead they will just have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. The Blackout EZ blinds are by far the best blackout blinds on the market. Trust me, I have tried at least 10 different brands! These block out 100% of light, no sneaking in of light on the sides like other curtains, blinds, or panels. You don’t need hardware to install them, and can still use them with your cute nursery drapery. Not to mention they work much better and are cheaper than the typical blackout blinds or panels. And they come in different colors too. They are amazing! You can find them here—>

 

 Illness

It should be no surprise that a baby that is sick, is now waking in the middle of the night. Whether it’s a cold, stomach bug, or just a fever, your baby will have a hard time sleeping due to the discomfort. Stuffy noses cause mouth breathing, and mouth breathing causes dry mouth, which in turn makes your baby wake more frequently. Fevers are also very uncomfortable, even for us adults, so think about what it does to our babies who can’t communicate their needs very well. During this time, try your best to soothe your baby, but you may just have to deal with a few rough nights.

 

So there you have it, the most common reasons a baby wakes up at night!


I am available for personal help!

Sometimes figuring out why your baby is waking up so often and
finding a solution to stop the wakings, requires some help. For that reason, I offer personal consultations. The consultation comes with a step by step sleep plan that I create for your baby, and help with the entire process so that your baby can start sleeping through the night. If you need help getting your baby to sleep, please take a look at my Consultation Packages, or see what others are saying about how I have helped them on the Testimonials Page.

 

 

“I saw unbelievable improvement in my baby’s sleep within 3 days of starting the plan. This is amazing to because my baby never slept a full night for the 7 months she’s been alive! She was very dependent on me, nursing, and a pacifier to fall asleep. I cannot thank Violet enough and highly recommend her plans/services to anyone struggling with infant sleep.

~Amber, Florida

 

Violet is truly amazing. 2 weeks- and our baby (8 months old) is sleeping straight thru at night between 8-10 hours and doubled his nap lengths (45min naps to 1.5+), as well as learned to self soothe and put self to sleep. (huge!!!) my husband and I can not thank her enough… we FINALLY feel like we can become “normal” again. Words do not describe our gratitude.

~ Jen, Wisconsin

 

Thank goodness for this wonderful lady!! I highly recommend her services if your baby is having trouble getting to sleep/sleeping through/waking early. I have gone from having to feed/walk/drive/bounce/rock my 9 month old to sleep, to her falling asleep in minutes on her own in her cot with no effort at all. Also gone from waking 2-3 times a night to sleeping 12 hours without waking!!!!! I am a new woman xx

~ Rachel, Bristol United Kingdom